Federal agencies Rail Transportation

FRA issues final rule amending Positive Train Control regs

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Washington — The Federal Railroad Administration is revising its regulations governing Positive Train Control systems – emergency slowing and stopping systems designed to help prevent train crashes and derailments caused by human error – and reporting on their function.

According to a final rule published in the July 27 Federal Register, “recognizing that the railroad industry intends to enhance FRA-certified PTC systems to continue improving rail safety and PTC technology’s reliability and operability,” the agency is modifying the process by which a host railroad submits an amendment request before making certain changes to its PTC Safety Plan and FRA-certified PTC system.

Based on comments received during the rulemaking process, FRA is streamlining the request for amendment process by requiring host railroads provide certain documentation, analysis and safety assurances in a concise request. The rule establishes a 45-day deadline for FRA to review – then approve or deny – railroads’ requests to amend their safety plans or systems. The rule does permit host railroads using the same type of PTC system to submit joint RFAs.

Additionally, to ensure more effective oversight, FRA is:

  • Expanding an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual.
  • Broadening the reporting requirement to include positive performance-related information, not just failure-related information.
  • Requiring host railroads to use a new, standardized Biannual Report of PTC System Performance (Form FRA F 6180.152).

FRA is amending the existing reporting requirement by updating the provision to use certain statutory terminology for consistency, specifying that only host railroads directly submit the reports to FRA, and explicitly requiring tenant railroads to provide the necessary data to their applicable host railroads.


The agency mandated that by Dec. 31, 2020, FRA-certified and interoperable PTC systems must govern operations on all PTC-mandated main lines, which include about 58,000 route miles nationally. Among the 35 host railroads impacted by the mandate, seven are Class I; 23 are intercity passenger or commuter railroads; and five are Class II, Class III, short line or terminal railroads.

FRA says the rule, set to go into effect Aug. 26, “will enable railroads to deploy PTC-related safety improvements and technological advancements more efficiently and frequently, under an expedited RFA process, and the expanded reporting requirement will help railroads and FRA identify systemic failures more quickly and precisely, enabling swifter intervention and resolution.”

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